When it comes down to it, I simply can’t pass up an adventure.
Especially when it involves a space station.
Virgin Galactic’s space station.
I was quite proud of myself for finding this massive, yet covert monument in the New Mexico desert. It’s about an hour’s drive from the closest town, Truth or Consequences. (Yes, you read that right. The town actually named itself after a radio quiz show from the ’50s.)
Someone tipped me off that the yet-to-be-opened space station was nearby, but the first couple of people I asked were guarded when I asked for specifics. Finally, I befriended a local artist who pointed me in the right direction. It was like playing a round of 20 questions with 20 different people. Each person I asked got me closer to my goal.
Finally, the massive complex appeared on the horizon, quite out of nowhere, like things tend to do in the desert.
I saw a half-finished security check point, but didn’t see anyone around, so I flew past it and drove toward the gate. Just as I caught my first glimpse of a building that would make even the most stoic person’s jaw drop, I saw a security guard jump on his mean-looking 4-wheeler and take off after me in my rearview mirror. This isn’t going to be good, I thought, as I began snapping as many photos as I could.
I stopped the car. He walked up to my open window with his hand on his gun, but he looked even more scared than I was — which, in retrospect, is understandable. For all he knew, I could be a massive nut job. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he shouted.
“I’m with National Geographic,” I called back, playing the only card I had. I tried to be calm, like I was supposed to be here.
He wasn’t having it, his hand still trained on the butt of his 9mm. “You need to come with me,” he said. “Right now.” The way he said “right now” through his teeth told me I was about to be arrested, but at least I had gotten a few photos.
I mean, put yourself in my shoes, just for a second. Think about the things you hung on your wall when you were growing up. Think about what you would have done if Michael Jordan’s door were open, or Madonna’s, or Jacques Cousteau’s… You would have gone in, right? You would have known that this kind of opportunity doesn’t come along…ever…and you would have walked in the door. Admit it.
I started thinking about who I’d call to bail me out. It wouldn’t be Mom and Dad; they don’t have any money. It wouldn’t be Nat Geo; they were going to disavow me after this. My significant other is an iPhone, so that was out. This wasn’t going to be good.
The guard walked me to his office and he asked for my driver’s license. I handed it over to him. He took it, wrote a few things down, then handed it back. “Will you be going inside the grounds, sir?” What?! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
I decided to go for broke. “Yes.”
He jotted down a few more things, handed me a pass and told me to be careful. This had to be a joke, right? As soon as I walked away, he was going to shoot me and call me stupid. I backed away slowly, got into my car, and drove back to the building and through the gate. I looked around for any snipers, but there were none. I was in. I couldn’t believe it. I was in!
- Nat Geo Expeditions
I parked the car and walked around the grounds with a slow confidence that I hoped would make the people guarding the perimeter think that I knew what I was doing. Big strides, long pauses, out in the open. I’m supposed to be here. Look at my badge!
I walked all the way out on the runway and looked back at the building where people would soon be walking out of, right before taking the most exciting ride of their lives. A ride that would put them in the 0.0001% of the world (at least for now), and give them the chance to see things most can only dream of.
I knew I was already pushing some amazing luck, so I snapped a few more photos, walked to my car, drove to the guardhouse, handed over my badge, and sped away as fast as I could – checking my rearview mirror for black SUVs and helicopters.
So, there you go. I saw my chance and I took it. I’ll never be a 0.0001% space tourist, so this was as close as I could get to the dream.
And it’s good to dream big.
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